By TOMMY REZAC
St. Joseph Post
FAUCETT - It's one of those games you look at on the schedule in the beginning of the season that you know is going to be important. You know it's going to be special.
That's exactly the case this Friday night in Faucett as No. 2 Mid -Buchanan (6-0) hosts No. 5 East Buchanan (6-0) in a battle of unbeaten KCI rivals.
The winner also takes control of their own destiny in terms of the KCI Championship and also who gets the No. 1 seed in the Class 1 District 8 bracket.
It's been a special season for both teams, but second-year head coach Daniel Ritter knows the biggest goals and the biggest games are still out there.
"We know our goals have not been met yet," Ritter told KFEQ , "and they're more at the end of the season. Now, is this a big test for us on Friday? Absolutely, but our goals are beyond that."
East Buchanan is fresh off of a 44-20 win at home over Plattsburg last Friday, having already scored wins over two other tough KCI teams in Hamilton (4-2) and West Platte.
"We were definitely glad to get out of there with a win," Ritter said of the Plattsburg game. "Plattsburg has definitely been competing. They beat North Platte and they almost beat Lawson, so we knew they were a good team for sure."
East Buchanan had a solid season last year in Ritter's first season, going 8-3 and finishing second in the district to none other than Mid-Buchanan.
Of their 51 players on the roster, only 12 are upperclassmen. But seniors Conner Musser, Luke Webb and Cru Conaway, along with juniors Carson White and Adam Stephen-Inges have provided solid leadership on both sides of the ball.
Plus, sophomore Trevor Klein has been among the very best running backs in Class 1 with 680 yards rushing and nearly 1,100 all-purpose yards as the kick return man.
Mid-Buchanan, meanwhile, seeks its fourth straight district title after finishing as state runners-up to Windsor last season. Like the Bulldogs, the Dragons started this season a bit young, losing 12 seniors and several key starters from last year's team.
But with five returning starters on both sides of the ball, and a thirst to prove that they're every bit as good as last year, Mid-Buchanan had an explosive start to the season, outscoring their first five opponents a combined 237-19.
Last week, the Dragons had their biggest test to date, going on the road to face No. 9 Hamilton. Mid-Buchanan got off to a 21-0 start and held on for a 21-19 victory.
While he was happy to get the win, seventh-year head coach Aaron Fritz wants his team to bring that same intensity and explosiveness that they've shown in the first five weeks.
"We cannot quit having great focus and great physicality and we cannot slow down our effort," Fritz said. "All three of those things have to continue for us to be a good football team, and we have to be sure we're doing that non-stop."
The Dragons are led by senior quarterback Rawlins Brant, who has accounted for 1,278 all-purpose yards and 24 all-purpose touchdowns. He also has a team-best five sacks and three fumble recoveries on defense.
Senior Cage Burns has been up front on both sides of the ball, leading the team with 36 tackles.
Even with many new players in new and bigger roles this season, Fritz says his team has never doubted and has never waivered at any point this fall.
"Our kids still believe that we can win every game," Fritz remarked. "I think that's a big deal that even when things change and turnover happens in terms of your program and numbers changing that your kids still believe in your program and are still working hard and I think that's been a big positive for us."
Needless to say, this is a huge game for both teams. Not just for this season, but just overall. Only 11 miles separate the two communities, and everyone knows everyone on either side.
The two schools see each other in every other sport every year. Usually multiple times. Mid-Buchanan has won five of the last six meetings on the gridiron, including twice last year.
East Buchanan had won 10 in a row from 2010-2017. Whatever happens Friday will be remembered for a long time, and will only make those future meetings between Mid-Buchanan and East Buchanan that much more special.
"We're right next to each other and all of these young men know each other," Ritter said. "Their parents know each other. Really, they share a community. It definitely runs deep. It allows all of these people who live in one area to come together and celebrate their teams and their players."
Kickoff in Friday's game is set for 7 p.m. Pregame starts at 6:35 and the game can be heard on KFEQ Radio (680 AM, 95.3 FM) and 680kfeqcom.
You can follow Tommy on Twitter @TommyKFEQ and St. Joseph Post @StJosephPost.